At noon I shift to my right at the table. I should settle in the chair now directly across from me, to the west, which offers more shade below the umbrella, but there’s a wasp boring a hole in one of the teak rungs, and anyway I’m too lazy to move. I work this way whenever the weather permits. Which means, most of the summer and much of the fall I am working out on the back deck, lollygagging, and making my way counterclockwise around the table, with my laptop, under the umbrella, so as not to get burned by the sun. By one o’clock I should be on the northern side, but I won’t sit there as my back would be to the street, and I’d have to twist my whole self to see what’s going on in the neighborhood, whilst the whole neighborhood can see me sitting in my chair doing nothing.
Today, the air is cooler and there’s a soft, easterly breeze, which is most pleasant after this summer’s stifling heat and humidity. I’ve had my two coffees, my big bowl of flax and blueberries soaked in coconut milk, and I am full and satisfied, except for the fact that I haven’t yet written one word of my lecture. I am thinking about how I am going to tell my advisor, Susan Cheever, that I still haven’t written one word of my lecture. (Hopefully, I’ll write at least one word by the end of September.)
I am thinking about how to begin. How to begin? What is it I want to say (never mind thinking about the actual saying, the utterance of the words I will write, before an audience—of super-learned people—which is terrifying in and of itself)? This is always the hardest part. What to say! At least I have settled on a topic: Photography. Which is an odd topic for a lecture about literature, but what I’m talking about is photography and literature—the photograph as framed memory, vision and language, history and narrative—key elements of story: setting, time, imagery, tension, perspective, climax, resolution.
While the process differs, photography and writing both capture and represent the human condition—its beauty and horrors, community, isolation, destruction, rebirth—beginning to end, birth to death, dust to dust. Of course, I need to become somewhat of an expert on the subject to do this, and an expert (or scholar) I am not. I have stacks of books to read. There’s a plethora of essays on photography—Barthes, Benjamin, Berger, Derrida, Sontag, Strand. Some I’ve read, like Barthes—who saw death as the eidos of every photograph—others I wonder if I’ll ever get to. Oh, what to tell Susan! That, this month, thus far I’ve set up an online photo gallery of my work, and I’m in the throws of an intense sunflower series, and I wander, wander, WANDER? All the time? And tomorrow I want to take the train to New York just so I can have sex with my peripatetic husband? (Look, teens in the house and traveling are obstacles.) Well, I also want to go to a few art galleries to examine photos by Dorothea Lange and Henri Cartier-Bresson, and, you know, maybe lollygag a bit more… Dear god I feel a panic attack coming on. What to tell Susan!
Continue reading →